Education Postponed

by Dorcas Cordill McCormick '49

My Scripps education was interrupted voluntarily in 1946 not by biological circumstances but as a result of choice-a result of war and peace.

I was 18 and had completed my freshman year at Scripps when my father was sent to Japan with the U.S. Occupation Forces to participate in the occupation and reconstruction operations. Still eligible to travel with my family as a dependent, I chose the opportunity to live in Japan, which meant postponing my formal education for what I thought would be a brief time.

Even though it took me many years to earn my degree, I have never regretted that decision. Living and working in Japan for 27 months gave me opportunities for learning and living that were unique.

After a couple of months in Japan, I tired of the activities available to military dependents, and finding correspondence courses less than inspiring, I found a job with the U.S. military government in the Information and Education Department of the U.S.I. (Unified Space Intelligence) Corps. I started as a clerk typist, but soon was assigned to a team that went into six prefectures in central Japan. We gave demonstrations on democracy in action to schools and citizens groups. Our focus was to go into the new public junior high schools, which for the first time admitted girls as students. We explained, demonstrated, and involved students and faculty on the election process and the functions of student government, using ourselves as models of democracy.

Later, I was part of a team encouraging the franchise of women, using the tenet “Each One Teach One,” where community leaders were brought into larger cities for sessions encouraging participation in the election process and were then send back to their villages to establish similar groups of their own.

Returning to the states in May 1949, I continued my education, but having missed the graduation of my Scripps class, I enrolled in Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana. There, at age 21, I met my future husband, and we married.

Now, being a married college student in the south in 1949 was not unheard of, but the ensuing pregnancy a few months later was my reason for taking time out to raise my family. It simply didn’t occur to me in 1950 that I could continue my college activities and raise a family. It took me another 15 years to realize that was possible!

Statistics aside, in my mind I was not a dropout student. I had simply taken “time out” for my family. For 15 years I was a housewife, raised four children, and was involved in church activities, scouting, and my children’s schooling. Eventually, I returned to my college work, first with night classes and, eventually, there was one monumental semester when I was so anxious to graduate that I signed up for 21 hours of class work.

Twenty-three years after enrolling at Scripps as a first-year, I graduated from college, and two years later had earned my master’s degree in library science from Louisiana State University.

It was while earning my master’s degree that I truly raised the eyebrows of my contemporaries. Having completed as many courses off campus and by correspondence as allowed, it was necessary for me to complete my degree with two semesters of on-campus work. I commuted weekly the 450 miles from home to campus. My very supportive husband managed the household in my absence, getting the first and third grader and sixth grader off to school, while our oldest was in his first year at college.

I returned home from Baton Rouge late each Friday evening to find a clean home, groceries bought, and a celebrative meal waiting for me. All that awaited me was a week’s worth of laundry! And many kisses and the sharing of stories and activities that brought me up to date on what had happened during my absence.

I was the subject of much gossip among my neighbors! No proper southern housewife would abandon her family as I had. Why, my youngest somehow went to school with his shirt buttoned up crooked one morning, and my daughter-learning her own independent grooming styles- was seen with the part in her “Dutch bob” hairstyle off-center. Imagine such neglect!

Regardless of such peer pressure, my family survived, and I enjoyed their support as I pursued my career as head of the LSU College of Nursing Library for another 20 years. In addition to the other obvious benefits, my children and grandchildren (who now number 10) were well aware of the value I placed on a college education. I encourage them to plan to finish as much of their education as they can before starting their own families- simply because it truly is difficult to be a parent and a commuting student simultaneously. I was fortunate to have a strongly supportive husband, willing to flaunt the prevalent cultural mores, to encourage me to fulfill my dreams of “having both family and career” at a time when this certainly was not the prevalent lifestyle of our contemporaries.